“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side. – Hunter S. Thompson”
I’m currently working with an independent artist through my music production platform Soundprise – and let’s just say she has over 4000 engaged followers, and thousands of streams on Spotify alone. She told me that she has been approached by a reputable independent label/marketing agency and that they were really interested in working with her.
They highlighted how her ‘career’ would take benefit from their agency and that they can amplify her marketing efforts, through PR opportunities, a Spotify campaign, and secure possible brand sponsorship/cross-promotional activities relating to her artist brand. Keep in mind that the agency was a ‘fan’ of her aesthetic as an artist. (The artist and the agency will not be named, for respect of their privacy and signing an NDA).
As me and the artist develop the song, and get to its final stages of production; she directly submits our track to the agency, and lo and behold – they weren’t satisfied with the sound and wanted to rebrand her according to how they saw fit. Plus, what she didn’t know at the time, was that this agency would eventually take a small part of the writer’s royalties in exchange for guaranteed placements/streams on Spotify (mentioned just before signing on the dotted lines of course).
To say that the artist I produced music for as dismayed and enraged about the situation, is an understatement. But I told her prior to working with her, that in business, you can’t get something for nothing. So if someone offers you a great prospect that’s too good to be true, it almost always is. (The situation is now under control, and the terms are being agreed upon as we speak)
Lessons to take away for the next-generation of artists
Take ownership of your music career (don’t hand it to someone else, especially a label/agency)
Yes, it’s true that eventually, as you progress within your artist career, that you will outsource a lot of duties to other providers – but going through the process of how it all works will pay dividends in the long run. Learning to approach blogs or curators, understanding what a live sound engineer does, how to create agreements with producers or musicians, and what content to create or distribute. They all are interdependent of each other and require going through the process to learn it.
Once you understand the process, it gives you a broader perspective on how all these sectors work for your career. And for the most part, most of what you are probably doing right now doesn’t feel justified; but they eventually will, once you achieve results from them. Which again, you can only gain insight from being in front of the trenches and actually taking action. A big part of it is taking responsibility, cause the honest truth is that no one cares about your work until they do.
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The music industry is a business (if it’s not about money, it’s about an exchange of value)
You might think that a great song is enough to ‘make it’ in the eyes of the music industry – but it could care less. Can you sell? Sell your brand? Sell your music? Sell your merch? Sell your content? The music industry was built on it being a money-making machine, and not about the quality of the music. That’s the cold hard truth.
Now I’m not saying the music is not important; but the fact is, the music is only a part of the whole picture. And most artists don’t understand the concept, because they’re in the ‘frame’ – hence the saying “you can’t see yourself when you’re in the frame”. So take this chance to study up on the music business, its history, its sectors, and how you can fit in your artist model into the picture. You’ll hopefully thank me later.
All you can focus on is what’s right in front you (the music, your brand, your marketing strategy, and building your fan base one at a time)
Building a music career as an independent artist is unbelievably difficult, and requires a lot of fundamentals to be in place to even have a chance at winning at it. I mean just ask the major labels, they have everything in place, but their artist signings can never really guarantee success long-term. And that’s what you’re up against.
How do we solve this overwhelm? Focus on the aspects of your career that you are in ‘control’ of – and that’s enough of a strategy that can get you in the races. Here are some aspects you can work on as an independent artist:
- Work on your artist brand (how you present yourself to the public)
- Find a unique sound aesthetic to separate you from similar artists (work with an amazing producer who gets you and your vision)
- Create and execute a marketing strategy that helps you build awareness and attract new fans into your world (study marketing principles for creatives)
- Be proactive in your approach to building a connection with your fans and music industry people (it is a small world, especially once you pass a certain threshold believe me)
Nothing is ever truly guaranteed in building a music career, and I can attest to that. You have to have multiple fundamentals in place, just to even set it up (remember major label development deals?). What truly matters, is the ‘process’, and who you can become during the venture you are about to embark on. And maybe, that in itself is the reward – everything else is just a bonus. This relates back to a blog I wrote on the topic:
Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 33
The one thing I know is that if you just keep showing up and improving your efforts with every setback; somehow, someway, the opportunities that present itself to you compound and take effect. And before you get into a comfortable position as an artist, the road will be tough. You best believe it. But this is your story, and this is your film: you’re the main actor, the director, the producer, and the creator. And how your story unfolds is in what you do in the next couple of chapters.
Let’s keep in touch
I hope this blog has helped clarify some steps and concepts you can take to build your independent artist career. And if you have any more questions or feedback on the matter, feel free to reach out to me:
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Thank you for reading, and I look forward to hopefully working with you soon!